Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence, Pt. 6:
“The Nations” in Great Commission Perspective
Note: This post is one in a series entitled, “Contours of a Great Commission Resurgence,” wherein we hope to give some definition of what constitutes a GCR, why the SBC needs a GCR, and what such a movement might look like in SBC life.
In the first five installments of the “Contours” series, Danny Akin, David Nelson, and Ken Keathley have written about a Great Commission Resurgence (GCR). Parts Six and Seven clarify the “GC” of the “GCR.” In this post, we will discuss “the nations” in Great Commission perspective, while in the next post, we will discuss “this nation” in Great Commission perspective.
A Mission Organized, Energized, and Directed by God
People often think of the terminology “Great Commission” with reference to Matthew 28:16-20, but we mean more than just a single selection of verses. Jesus’ commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel is like the tip of an iceberg; when we say “Great Commission,” we refer not only to the tip, but to the whole iceberg, which includes God’s mission, the church’s mission, and the church’s mission to the nations. Before speaking of the church’s mission to the nations, we must speak of the church’s mission, and before speaking of the church’s mission we must speak of God’s mission (missio Dei). As David Nelson pointed out in Part Two, It is the God of life and love who created and shared that life and love with man. And it is the same God who responded to man’s sin by promising the Messiah, thereby setting in motion his mission to redeem a people for himself, to win the nations to himself, and indeed to reconcile all things unto himself. In God’s promise to send the Messiah, we see the beginnings of God’s mission.
Mission, therefore, is God-centered rather than man-centered, being rooted in God’s gracious will to glorify Himself. Mission is defined by God. It is organized, energized, and directed by God. Ultimately, it is accomplished by God.
A Mission Focused upon the Nations
In Matthew’s gospel, our Lord instructs us to make God’s mission our mission: “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” In this passage, our Lord instructs us not only that we must win the nations, but how we must win the nations.
The first phrase, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth,” makes clear that followers of any other lord must repent and follow Jesus, and that this is on the basis of the supreme authority of the Lord of the universe. Based on this authority, our Lord gives the imperative, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In this command, we are instructed to make disciples, and not merely professions of faith. Moreover, we are given directives for disciple-making. We are to do so through baptism (and therefore in the context of His church) and in the name of the Triune God (who alone can save). Finally, making disciples includes “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
In relation to this final element of Matthew’s text, we note two things. First, the “commands of Christ” are contained in the Christian Scriptures. There is no true evangelism or discipleship apart from the proclamation of the Word of God. Second, the “commands of Christ” are not limited to those statements in the New Testament in which Jesus speaks in the imperative. Indeed, the entirety of Scripture, including Old and New Testaments, teaches us what God has done through Christ. Anything that Scripture teaches, Christ teaches. All Scripture is inspired by God, and hence also bears the insignia of Christ. Our evangelism and discipleship, therefore, will include the clear teaching of the entire canon of Scripture.
In the final phrase of Mt 28:20, our Lord promises, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Herein lies our confidence, that we go under the authority of Christ and in the very presence of Christ. Missiology is at its heart Christological. There is perhaps no better picture of the Christological nature of missiology than Rev 5, where we see the Lamb-Like Lion receiving the worship of the nations, as the nations sing, “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for You were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.”
A Mission across Cultural and Linguistic Boundaries
If, therefore, we are to make the gospel readily accessible to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation, we must be willing and able to cross vast cultural divides, overcome daunting linguistic barriers, and bear witness in the face of opposition. In other words, we must be intentional-we must be missional. (Note: It is necessary to cross such divides whether in an international context or in the United States. Ed Stetzer, in Planting Missional Churches, puts it this way: “Don’t confuse the terms mission-minded and missional. The first refers more to an attitude of caring about missions, particularly overseas. Missional means actually doing mission right where you are. Missional means adopting the posture of a missionary, learning and adapting to the culture around you while remaining biblically sound.”) 
Whereas a missional Christian is first and foremost a theologian, he also is a student of other disciplines such as global studies, current affairs, world religions, anthropology, and sociology. In studying global studies and current affairs, he gains an understanding of the international and regional context within which he ministers. In studying world religions, he learns to understand the core religious beliefs and religious practices of those to whom he will minister. In sociology and anthropology, he learns to pay careful attention to the immediate social and cultural context. Although he may never be an expert in these disciplines, he uses them insomuch as they are helpful in order to understand the global, cultural, social, and personal contexts of those to whom he ministers.
Indeed, our goal is to send forth missionaries who are grounded in the scriptures, culturally sensitive, prepared to make disciples, and equipped to plant churches. These churches should be healthy, reproductive, and able to reach their own people group and nation. In doing so, we must meet several challenges.
One challenge is that of focus. With a limited number of missionaries, to which parts of the globe do we send missionaries? It is our conviction that the majority of international missionaries should be sent to unreached people groups, have little or no access to the gospel. There are vast stretches of the globe (Asia and Africa in particular) where a person could leave his house and search for days and weeks and months and never find a church, a Christian, or a Bible in his language. In these places there is no church that is capable of reaching its own culture. It is our conviction that we should take the gospel to these people groups.
Another challenge is that of strategy. What is the central focus of our missionaries? It is our conviction, along with that of the International Mission Board, that our focus should be church planting. We seek to plant churches whose immediate goal it is to plant other churches, until there is a cascading chain of churches planting churches. Indeed, it is our hope that there will be a church planted within walking distance of every house in the world.
A final challenge is contextualization. In order for the gospel to be preached contextually, it must be preached faithfully, meaningfully, and dialogically. It must be preached faithfully, being defined and delimited by the Scriptures. It must be preached meaningfully, in such a manner that the hearer understands the gospel in the same way that the preacher intends it. And it must be preached dialogically, in conversation with the host culture, as they prayerfully seek to allow the gospel to critique the very language and categories of their own culture.
What, then, is our task? Our task is to make the gospel readily accessible to every tribe, tongue, people and nation; it is to do so even in the face of formidable financial challenges and potential personal cost, to do so joyfully even when we might suffer for the sake of the gospel. This is no small task.
The magnitude of our task, however, is matched and exceeded by the magnitude of our biblical convictions: That God is a missionary God; that all people without Christ are lost; that a central theme in the Scriptures is God’s desire to win the nations unto Himself; that since the coming of His Son, God has chosen that all saving faith be consciously focused on Christ; that the church’s task in each generation is to proclaim the gospel to her generation; and that this progress of the gospel to the ends of the earth may be hindered temporarily, but we have no doubt about its final triumph.
 Ed Stetzer, Planting Missional Churches (Nashville: B&H, 2006), 19.